The visual-effects wizards at Rhythm & Hues in Los Angeles said that their most spectacular sequence in the upcoming fantasy movie The Golden Compass didn’t make the final cut but will instead serve as the beginning of the hoped-for next installment, which may hit theaters in 2009.

The sequence, which takes place at the North Pole and involves the aurora borealis, is part of the movie that director Chris Weitz announced that he was saving for the next movie, which will also be based on Philip Pullman’s trilogy of books, His Dark Materials.

The visual-effects house actually worked on about 80 shots for the sequence. “The decision was made to have the movie end slightly earlier than the first book ends, so there’s a scene at the end of first book, … the plans right now I believe are to start the second movie with that scene,” visual-effects producer Gary Nolin told an audience of journalists on Oct. 15 during a preview screening of effects footage. “It’s a scene that takes place at the North Pole, [with] the aurora borealis and the sort of the window into the new world.”

Mike Meaker, the film’s art director, added: “We had a long period of time where we developed this stuff. It’s very matte-painting-heavy and effects-heavy , and we did a lot of work for it.”

During a presentation at Rhythm & Hues’ headquarters in the Playa Vista section of Los Angeles, producers screened footage showing the extent of the effects house’s work on the film’s “daemons,” the animal manifestations of human souls, who accompany the film’s characters. These included Pantalaimon, the daemon of the film’s heroine, young Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards); Pan variously appears as a cat, a bird, a mouse and a ferret and seamlessly morphs from one to the other in the course of the movie.

Other daemons included the golden monkey of Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), a mythical creature that the producers described as having the coloration of a golden tamarind and the movements of capuchin monkey; Stelmaria, the sleek snow leopard that accompanies Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig); and Hester, the ragged hare that walks with Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott).

The footage showed photorealistic animals that were slightly altered to heighten their supernatural aspects, such as having a multicolored sheen on their fur. The Golden Compass opens Dec. 7.

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